By SGT Nancy Deweese, Old Guard Public AffairsFebruary 2, 2009
A career counselor from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) has been named the Secretary of the Army's Career Counselor of the Year.
Sgt. 1st Class Strate Flessas, the career counselor for 1st Battalion, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), represented the Military District of Washington as he competed with 11 other career counselors from the major Army commands on January 26 at the Arlington Residence Court in Arlington, Va.
Flessas was chosen to represent MDW based on his outstanding record as a Soldier, noncommissioned officer, and career counselor, said Master Sgt. James Warner, the noncommissioned officer in charge of retention at The Old Guard. Flessas has a record physical training score of 292 and is an expert marksman.
After being chosen by Warner to represent MDW, Flessas went to a board, where his knowledge of Army policies, Soldier skills, and career counselor skills was tested for over three hours.
"He's a rookie. He's been doing this job for only 7 months, and he possesses more knowledge than most tenured career counselors," said Warner.
The competition was designed to find the best career counselor in the Army. Army career counselors are seasoned Soldiers who are trained to advise Soldiers on their career opportunities in the Army. Not only are they in charge of Soldier re-enlistments, but they also help Soldiers explore their opportunities for military schools and assignments to Army units around the world.
For the competition on the 26th, Flessas was quizzed on his role as a career counselor for 20 minutes, he said. His military bearing and personal demeanor were also factors in the competition.
Flessas said success in being a career counselor lies in having genuine concern for the Soldiers. "It's about the numbers in the sense that we're trying to grow the Army. But as an NCO, it's impossible to see a Soldier in a numerical form. We need to look for the ability to be proactive in looking for the opportunity to help the Soldier. As long as we continue to take care of Soldiers, Soldiers will continue to stay on the Army team."
This attitude explains Sgt. 1st Class Flessas' success, said Command. Sgt. Maj. David Martel, command sergeant major of 1st Battalion. "He's dedicated, hard-working, and he cares about what he does. He sees Soldiers as Soldiers, not numbers - they're assets to the battalion and to the Army," he said. "He's always going the extra mile to get what the Soldiers want. This extra step keeps a great Soldier in, and the other Soldiers see that he cares. It makes it easier for Sgt. 1st Class Flessas to be approached."
Besides caring for the Soldiers and their career paths, attention to detail has been essential to Flessas' success. "There are a lot of little things you have to be aware of," he said. "You need to know the current policy messages. We have to properly use the tools that are given to us to make both the Soldier and the Army happy."
Although he has been a career counselor for The Old Guard for only 7 months, Flessas has already been making his mark on growing the Army.
"The Old Guard's retention numbers are the best they have ever been," said Warner. "In the first quarter [of fiscal year 2009], 114 Soldiers re-enlisted, versus 62 Soldiers in the first quarter last year."
Although the 289th Military Police Company from 4th Battalion has the highest number of re-enlistments for that quarter, 1st Battalion, Flessas' battalion, leads the way over all.
Flessas has the right personality and attitude that ensure his success, said Warner. "He's a go-getter. He'll talk to anybody, and he loves to talk to Soldiers."
"He's dedicated. I see him working early in the morning until late in the afternoon," said Martel. "He goes the extra mile to work the Army system to get Soldiers the bonuses, schools, and duty assignments they want. His efforts make the unit strong and the Army Strong."
Although being a career counselor means a lot more time behind a desk, having the chance to make Soldiers' lives means a lot, said Flessas. "I miss shooting guns, being GI Joe," said Flessas. "But as a career counselor, I can influence an entire battalion worth of Soldiers. My footprint is bigger."
During a retention awards luncheon at the dining facility on Fort Myer, Old Guard commander Col. Joseph Buche spoke of the importance of the career counselor in a unit. "One of the primary challenges in the Army right now is the challenge to grow the Army" he said. "This challenge is squarely on our shoulders. The Old Guard's [high] retention rates are the result of efforts of guys like Sgt. 1st Class Flessas."